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Darla Moore School of Business

New Moore School faculty researches how interactions with dogs versus cats vary consumer behavior

Jan. 30, 2020

Moore School marketing associate professor Xiaojing Yang is interested in understanding the impacts of marketing practices on consumers’ day-to-day lives. He applies a consumer behavior lens to his understanding of marketing.

New to the Moore School this year, Yang’s current research focuses on the social aspect of consumer behavior.

“I am particularly interested in how consumers interact with their surrounding social world and other social beings like other people, marketers and even pets and how this interaction affects their behavior and decision-making,” Yang said.

Yang studies how interactions with a dog or cat influences consumers’ decisions. He said there are two types of decision-making: promotion-focused and risk seeking or prevention-focused and risk averse.

This research reveals that consumers who have more interactions with dogs tend to be risk seekers while consumers who have more interactions with cats trend toward risk-averse behavior. Furthermore, risk-seeking consumers often make decisions that will advance their goals, while risk averse consumers are likely to make decisions that adhere to their obligations and commitments.

In one study, Yang finds that when asked to make a financial decision between two investment options — the riskier stock option and the less risky mutual fund option—consumers who have more interactive experiences with dogs are more likely to invest in stocks while consumers with more interactive experiences with cats are more likely to invest in mutual funds.

“In another study, we find that consumers who are reminded about an interactive experience they had with a dog, being more risk seeking and promotion-focused, are more likely to evaluate a product more positively after seeing an ad featuring how the product helps them achieve their hopes and aspirations,” Yang said. “Whereas consumers who are reminded about an interactive experience with a cat, being more risk averse and prevention-focused, are more likely to evaluate a product more positively after viewing an ad featuring how the product helps them fulfill their duties and obligations.”

In today’s big data era, marketers likely know the kinds of pets their consumers own and interact with. Therefore, Yang said, marketers should consider crafting their advertising messages differently and recommending different products and services based on the type of pets with which their consumers interact.

“For example, if marketers are targeting consumers who have, or are reminded about, interactive experiences with dogs, marketers should emphasize the promotion-focused goals such as hopes and aspirations or sell products and services with such a focus,” Yang said.

Yang stresses the importance of marketers understanding that consumer decisions are not made in a vacuum; consumers are always surrounded by other social and semi-social beings that influence their purchasing decisions.

“It is crucial for marketers to understand how social interactions impact consumption decisions and purchase patterns,” Yang added.

Yang’s other research topics include an examination of what service providers should say to consumers when there is a service failure.

For example, when an order is incorrect in a restaurant, should the server say, “Thank you for your patience,” or “I apologize for the wrong order.” The research found that, in most cases, acknowledging the consumers’ positive traits and behavior through gratitude is more effective than emphasizing the service mistake.

Excited to experience the great weather and food in Columbia, South Carolina, Yang said he is pleased to be joining the Moore School faculty this academic year.

“I decided to come to the Moore School because of its scholarly reputation for valuing and supporting high-quality research, research-productive colleagues and a collegial environment,” Yang said.

As a consumer-marketing researcher, Yang reminds his students that they should excel in their marketing coursework as well as in their personal marketing. After all, a marketing candidate’s consumer is prospective employers.

“Consider how to brand yourself to stand out from others,” he said. “Ask what values you can create for your customers.”

-Erin Mooney


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